At ‘1.23.45am’ Moscow Time, both the emergency safety and power regulating systems of the V.I. Lenin Power Plant were simultaneously shut down in a late night safety test. When this happened, uncontrolled reaction conditions caused reactor 4 to explode amongst the forest laden county of Chernobyl.
It is a disturbing moment watching the Chernobyl disaster take place on the latest Sky Atlantic fact-based drama. The explosion is silently seen as an extraordinary speck of light resting on the horizon behind Jessie Buckley’s apartment window as she walks aimlessly, sleep deprived, through the night.
From the very beginning of Chernobyl, TV goers know they’re in for an intense viewing. Almost immediately we see consultant Valery Legasov hang himself right after whispering into a tape recorder the word ‘madness’ to describe the events that took place outside the Ukrainian town of Pripyat in the early hours of April 1986.
Wind back two years before the suicide, and Craig Mazin’s script unfolds seamlessly, alarmingly, a disquieting arrangement of events that build up to the realisation a catastrophe has taken place.
We see perspectives from both the sides of the little people and the influential players. Buckley’s fireman husband is sent to the site to tackle the fire while plant manager Viktor Bryukhanov and chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov argue in their offices, refusing to accept reactor 4 has blown up.
It is Bryukhanov and Dyatlov’s Soviet hardened stubbornness that creates an unerring concoction of anger alongside shock which makes the first episode of Chernobyl so enthralling.
Bryukhanov and Dyatlov are brutal in bullying workers to their radiation induced deaths by sending them to see what’s happened and totally ignoring reports when they return telling the bosses reactor 4 is no longer there.
Alongside this we watch the harrowing effects of radiation fallout. The unnaturally red faces of the people on the site, the hideous burn injuries that come from touching anything radioactive, all of this set in the dead of night, in Communist era Ukraine, amongst the foreboding symphony of the backing orchestra which is as relentless as the plumes of heavy black smoke billowing out the graphite fires burning in the plant.
It is sometimes hard to believe these disasters stem from negligence rather than tragedy. Both Chernobyl and, more recently, Fukushima could have been averted had the proper procedures been followed and better safety protocols put in place.
Almost 10 years after events in Japan, and in light of the world searching for alternative sources of clean energy, Chernobyl is an absorbing and eye-opening watch that will hopefully dispel many USSR clouded myths about the events that took place outside the now totally abandoned town of Pripyat, 33 years on, from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Catch Chernobyl on Sky Atlantic now.